Take your Bible and open it to Psalm 120.
Do you notice a little subheading just below the chapter number? Do you see “A Song of Ascents” (NKJV) or “A Song of Degrees” (KJV)?
These fifteen beautiful psalms of ascents were sung by Jewish travelers (which at one point, included a twelve-year-old Jesus and His family) on their uphill journey to Jerusalem. Hence, the word ascents.
After reaching Jerusalem, the travelers then climbed the fifteen steps leading into the temple courts, singing one psalm per step. When they reached the top step, they walked through the Huldah Gates into the temple of the Lord. That had to be a powerful experience!
My wife, Cindy, and I take tour groups to Israel every summer. When we do, we climb these same fifteen steps, reciting these same fifteen psalms, in the great tradition of all the Yahweh-worshippers who have gone before us.
However, unlike Yahweh-worshippers of the past, we will never be able to enter into the temple in Jerusalem because it was destroyed in AD 70. We will never be able to stand in the temple courts, to hear the Levites sing, to watch the priests enter into the Holy Place.
The truth is worshiping the Lord today isn’t anything like worshiping the Lord in AD 18.
It’s way better!
Solomon’s temple was glorious, and many traveled far to see it. But only one person on the planet—and only one day each year, the Day of Atonement—was allowed access into the presence of the Lord Himself. Everyone else was forbidden to enter the Holy of Holies.
Then something dramatic happened.
One Friday afternoon in around AD 31, the entire system of temple access was set aside. A few hundred yards from the temple, in a rock quarry, a thirty-three-year-old man cried out, “It is finished!”—more literally, “Paid in full!” And when He did, the temple curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world was torn from top to bottom!
For the first time, ordinary people—anybody standing nearby—could peer directly into the Holy of Holies.
What was happening? A new High Priest was taking over, breaking down the barrier between God and humanity, because this man was both God and human.
Forty days later, this same High Priest, Jesus Christ, returned to “the true tabernacle” in heaven (Heb. 8:2 NKJV), presenting Himself both the High Priest and as a lamb freshly slain (Rev. 5:6 NKJV). Christ then unleashed His Spirit throughout the entire earth, filling His followers with spiritual gifts, languages, and the realization that they were now “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9 KJV) serving their High Priest, Jesus Christ.
One of those who realized the enormity of what had happened would later write a letter to Hebrew readers. The book of Hebrews was, perhaps, directed to former priests who needed assurance that they were doing the right thing in turning to a new priesthood and a High Priest who never changes. This dramatic change can be summed up in this:
“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19–22).
In the high priesthood of Jesus Christ, you are also a priest. You have direct access to God the Father through the veil of the flesh of His Son. And you are called to do a priestly work in Christ, bringing others into the glorious presence of Yahweh.
Andy Nash is an author, professor, and pastor who leads summer study tours to Israel.
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One benefit of finding new life in Christ is called in the Bible “everlasting [eternal] life.” The character of this great reality may be summarized by carefully looking at each word. The word “life” stresses the quality of this new relationship to God (John 10:10). It does not mean, of course, that we are not physically alive before salvation; it simply stresses the fact that we enter a new, personal relationship with God that gives us a fullness of spiritual vitality that we lacked before (John 17:3).
The word “everlasting” emphasizes life without end. Though it will not be completely fulfilled until our future bodily redemption (Rom. 8:23), it is still a present possession that can never perish (John 10:28).
Everlasting life must not be thought of as an exclusively future possession. Rather, its possession is clearly seen in our actions. Thus, “no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). Indeed, love is the confirming evidence that we do, in fact, have eternal life (1 John 3:14).
The greatness of this spiritual reality constitutes a wonderful incentive to vigorously proclaim the gospel to those who are still “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).
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Because of the Resurrection, Christians receive both eternal life (John 11:25) and spiritual power (Eph. 1:19, 20). Christ’s resurrection also provides for the future resurrection of believers (1 Cor. 15:20) and is the key to victory in life because of the union with Christ (Eph. 2:6).
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Evangelism gives Christians an opportunity to participate in God’s work of arranging for others what was arranged for us: an introduction to Jesus Christ. God, in his loving grace, gives us roles in his plan of salvation. In order to make the most of our opportunity, however, we need to understand what God’s Word says about evangelism. Here are three principles to get us started.
Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in Matthew 10:5–20 are revealing:
These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.
“Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”
There’s nothing remotely comfortable in those arrangements, but that follows biblical tradition. If you look at the most extraordinarily impactful and life-changing events in Scripture, you’ll find that few, if any, of them take place in people’s comfort zones.
When we’re in our comfort zone, we tend to rely on our own strength and wisdom. We feel confident and in charge. When we’re outside of our comfort zone, we’re more likely to rely on God’s strength and wisdom. We recognize our limitations and allow God to lead us. And that’s when good things happen.
The evangelism that Jesus envisions for his followers doesn’t always involve a formal presentation of the gospel message. Many people are resistant to encounters they see as clichéd or orchestrated. Often, the best evangelism tool is a well-lived life.
The apostle Peter said,
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11–12)
We help other people see Christ not simply by abstaining from certain things, but also by joyously embracing other things. We help them see Christ by maintaining a humble and loving attitude in the face of conflict; by sacrificing our own time and resources for others; by demonstrating a consistently caring spirit; and by being an encourager, a protector, and a unifier.
One day the apostle Philip encountered an official from Ethiopia, who was sitting in his chariot, trying to make sense of the writings of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.
“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked the man.
“How can I, unless someone guides me?” the Ethiopian replied.
Philip explained the passage, and how it related to Jesus of Nazareth. A short time later, he baptized the Ethiopian official.
In Acts 8:26-40, Luke presents the encounter as somewhat miraculous. The Ethiopian needed someone to explain Scripture to him, so an angel of the Lord directed Philip toward him at exactly the right moment. What was a blessing for the Ethiopian, however, might be seen as a challenge for Philip.
Imagine someone stopping you on the street and asking you how Old Testament prophecy connects to Jesus. Could you do it? More to the point, can you answer the questions and doubts people have about your Christian faith?
Peter urges believers to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). That’s a lofty goal—but a worthwhile pursuit.
This commentary is from the New King James Study Bible. With more than 2 million copies sold, it’s no secret that the NKJV Study Bible is a reliable guide for your journey into God’s Word. This Bible provides a complete resource for study, including thousands of notes, articles, extensive cross-references, and features contributed by top evangelical scholars.
Holy Week, the last week of Lent, begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. Good Friday is the day that receives the most attention, and for good reason. Yet the entire week offers an opportunity for us to deepen our relationship with Christ and our appreciation for His sacrifice.
With that goal in mind, here are two words to focus on as we prepare our hearts for Holy Week.
Hebrews 4:15 offers this assurance: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus is able can empathize with our human frailties because He became fully human. What we don’t often consider is that the potential for empathy runs both ways. We can’t fathom what it means to be fully God, but we have a pretty good handle on what it means to be fully human. We know all too well what loneliness and dread feel like.
So, we imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the cheers of the crowd—alone in the knowledge that, in a matter of days, the people’s adulation would curdle into disappointment and then hatred. Imagine being able to comprehend the full measure of God’s wrath—which Jesus could do, since He is God—and realizing that wrath would soon be turned against you.
Imagine knowing that, in a matter of hours, you were going to suffer an excruciating death—and having no one to talk to about it, no one to give you comfort. Jesus’ disciples couldn’t seem to grasp what was about to happen, even though Jesus had tried to make them understand time and time again.
When His burden became almost too much to bear, Jesus turned to His three closest friends for help. He asked a simple favor of them: to stay awake and keep watch for those who would betray Him while He focused His attention on the most intense prayer session of His life. All three of them fell asleep.
Jesus watched His followers scatter when His enemies came for Him. He felt the betrayal of Judas Iscariot and the denials of Peter. He was rejected, taunted, and beaten by the human race He had come to save.
The question is, can we feel it? Can we empathize, even slightly, with what Jesus must have experienced? Let that be our first aim this Holy Week.
Let our second aim be to embrace the tension of Holy Week. To do that, we must look at it from a first-century perspective. Easter Sunday is the most joyous day of the Christian calendar. Yet its full impact can’t be felt unless we understand the uncertainty that preceded Jesus’ resurrection. Easter Sunday is the surprise ending to the greatest cliffhanger in human history.
Keep in mind that Jesus’ death was an especially cruel blow to those who had embraced His teachings. Jesus had released them from the burdens of Old Testament law. He had shown them a new way. He had promised everlasting life.
He had given them hope, direction, and purpose.
And when He died, all of that supposedly died with Him. His message was tied to His identity. If He was not who He claimed to be, His promises and the truth He spoke were null and void. If He could be silenced by death, so could everything He stood for.
So, on that Sabbath, the Silent Saturday of Holy Week, all must have seemed lost.
Or almost all.
A flicker of hope remained. Someone paying very close attention would have recognized that the events surrounding Jesus’ death followed a familiar pattern—one that Jesus Himself had predicted. “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matt. 16:21).
Someone paying very close attention would have recognized that the fate of humankind hung in the balance that Saturday. The apostle Paul expresses that tension well in 1 Corinthians 15:14: “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.”
If the grave held Him, all was lost. Death would remain undefeated. There would still be a great chasm between God and humanity. In Israel, the Jewish people would settle back into their religious routines. And the rabbi from Nazareth would be forgotten within a few years.
If, on the other hand, the grave could not hold Him, the world would never be the same.
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Understandably, a thread of grief runs through the gospel account of Jesus’ crucifixion. We’re given glimpses of the people who were closest to Him—snapshots that allow us to imagine their pain and loss. As the story progresses from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, a second thread winds itself into the narrative—a thread of healing and joy.
These two threads continue throughout the New Testament and extend to us some 2,000 years later. Everyone whose hope is in Christ can find comfort and healing by tracing these threads back to their source.
Imagine the grief of the men who had left everything to follow Jesus. For three years, they had shared in His ministry—the highs and the lows. They had watched Him still a storm at sea with just a few words. They had seen Him cure all manner of sickness and disability. They had been transformed by His teaching. Jesus had impacted each of them in extraordinary ways, and suddenly they were faced with the prospect of life without Him.
Compounding their grief was their realization that Jesus had warned them about what was going to happen—on several different occasions, in fact. Yet they had refused to listen or to accept the literalness of His words. So, when it finally happened—the betrayal, followed by the arrest and the crucifixion—they were caught by surprise. They scattered to save themselves and never had a chance to say their proper goodbyes.
After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples in a closed room. He spent time with them, helping them overcome their grief and comforting them with His presence. When Thomas, who was not present in the room, later expressed doubts about what the others had seen, Jesus appeared a second time. Thomas’ doubts—and grief—disappeared forever.
Imagine the grief of Jesus’ closest friend and self-styled protector. Peter’s sense of loss was magnified by his own devastating personal failure. Hours after vowing never to desert the Lord, Peter denied—on three separate occasions—even knowing him. As far as Peter knew, Jesus’ last memory of Him was his betrayal of his vow.
John 21:15–19 records the risen Jesus’ reconciliation with Peter. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. Three times Peter replied that he did. And three times Jesus instructed Peter to care for His lambs and sheep. He restored Peter’s heart and soul and prepared him to serve.
Imagine the grief of Jesus’ mother. From the time she conceived, Mary understood that her son would be the long-awaited Messiah—Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).
Yet that didn’t change the fact that He was also her son. She saw nails driven into the hands that she had held when Jesus was a boy. She stood silently while a crowd hurled insults and spewed hatred at her firstborn child. Mary had watched Him draw His first breath, and she watched Him draw His last. Hers was the terrible grief of a mother who lives long enough to see the death of her child.
Hers was also the inexpressible joy of seeing that which she feared lost forever returned to her. When she saw the risen Jesus, those things which she had “pondered . . . in her heart” since his boyhood (Luke 2:19) suddenly took on a new meaning.
The grief of His disciples, His closest friends, and even His mother paled in comparison to the grief Jesus Himself experienced when His heavenly Father turned away from Him. On the cross Jesus “became sin”—the object of His Father’s perfect wrath. The intimate fellowship with God that had sustained Jesus throughout His earthly ministry was broken. Jesus felt the full force of God’s abandonment. He was alone in a profoundly disturbing way. His grief pours from His lips as He quotes Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When His sacrifice was completed and God’s plan for salvation was fulfilled, Jesus was restored to fellowship. According to Ephesians 1:20, he sits at the right hand of His Heavenly Father.
Two thousand years later, we come to Good Friday with the benefit of hindsight. We know what happened on Easter Sunday. So, we react to Jesus’ sacrifice not with grief, but with a sense of unworthiness and overwhelming gratitude. Yet we’re no strangers to grief. Where do Jesus’ death and resurrection leave us as we struggle with our own devastating losses?
Because of the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, those who put their trust in Jesus will live forever in the presence of our Heavenly Father. We may not be able to wrap our minds around everything that entails, but we do know this: because of Jesus’ redemptive work, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” (Rev. 21:4).
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The story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection will pique the curiosity of spiritual seekers this Easter season. The question for Jesus’ followers is how to make the most of the opportunity. How can we help people who know little more than the basics of the Easter story understand its full implications? Here are three ideas to get you started.
In order to convince Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to release the Hebrew people from slavery, God sent 10 plagues on Egypt. The tenth and final plague was the death of every firstborn child. The only way for people to escape the plague was to sacrifice an unblemished lamb and paint its blood on the doorposts of their homes. When the angel of death saw the blood of the lamb, it passed over that household. The event came to be known and celebrated as Passover.
Some 1,500 years later, God’s plan of salvation for the human race was unveiled—and it echoed the Passover in Exodus. The key to salvation was the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb—in this case, a perfect representative of the human race. The only way to escape the punishment of death for our sins was to figuratively cover ourselves with the blood of the sacrificial lamb.
To people who are unfamiliar with the Bible story, the crucifixion may seem like the very definition of cruel and unusual punishment. They wonder, how could a loving God allow His Son to suffer like that?
The best place to start addressing those concerns is John 14:6. That’s where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” There is no boast or pride in Jesus’ words. He is helping the world understand that only He can bridge the separation between God and humankind.
Sin created the separation. According to God’s plan, only a perfect sacrifice can pay the penalty for sin. But no human has ever been perfect, so God sent His only Son to take on human form and live a sinless life in order to become that sacrifice. Only Jesus’ sacrifice could satisfy God’s perfect justice and holiness. So the way to the Father spoken of in John 14:6 passed through the cross and the tomb.
Only Jesus was able to conquer sin by living an unblemished life. Only Jesus was able to conquer death by emerging from the tomb.
With so many profound spiritual truths to celebrate, we run the risk of confusing spiritual seekers by including something as frivolous as an imaginary bunny in our Easter traditions. The good news is that profound spiritual truths don’t always have to be celebrated in profound ways. You can have Easter fun with your kids while you focus on spiritual truths.
Help your family understand that profound doesn’t necessarily mean solemn.
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